Ridgewood: a Ballstriker’s Paradise
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup

“Kick back into the fairway,” Ryan Moore said after snap-hooking his drive into the trees on the third hole in Wednesday’s afternoon pro-am at The Barclays. “There you go, it almost’s in the first cut.”

“Hey, at least you can practice out of the rough now,” I said half-jokingly.

A few minutes earlier, walking between the second green and the third tee, I asked Ryan, “So, what’s the key to winning [at Ridgewood]?”

“Just hit it in the fairway,” he replied.

We laughed (acknowledging that it’s a dumb yet must-ask question). I mean, that’s always the goal, right? Duh. But as we’ve seen — with the most recent example being Whistling Straits — there are some courses that favor bombers and are more forgiving to errant drives.

As you may have heard once or eight times, Ridgewood favors the better ballstrikers. Just look at the results from 08 — Vijay Singh won in a playoff over Sergio Garcia and Kevin Sutherland. Singh, who has struggled some this year, and Garcia, who is taking a two-month break from golf, are known as great ballstrikers (maybe I should use the past tense for Singh?), but not great putters. Ironically, they both sank some huge putts that Sunday afternoon.

Sutherland is ranked first in the “greens in regulation” stat on the PGA Tour this season. (Don’t have time to do “Balls in the Air” feature again this week, but I picked him, along with Steve Stricker, Bo Van Pelt and Rickie Fowler. On the bench, I have Ernie Els, Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar.)

With all the rain this week, the conditions are soft and the course is playing long, but starting on Thursday, the forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures rising daily and reaching 92 degrees on Sunday. Those with morning tee times, which includes Tiger Woods who is first off at 7:10am, will probably have the best scoring conditions. With the greens still soggy, they’ll be stomped on efficiently by the afternoon under the expected 80 degree sun. Which sounds like the perfect recipe for bumpy, firmer greens!

“The rough is really long and lush and the greens are small, so they’ll be tough to hit if you’re not in the fairway,” Moore said. “It’s very demanding from tee to green.”

He praised the traditional-style Tillinghast design, adding, “It’s a shame that more major championships aren’t played at courses like this.”

Moore, who has a new driver in the bag this week (TaylorMade SuperFast), wasn’t getting much practice from the rough as just about every drive had found the short grass.

Until No. 3 — his 16th hole of the round.

*Update for where I stupidly confused Sergio for Adam Scott. I mean, they all look alike.

[Photo via John O’Boyle/The Star-Ledger]